Now, before we dig much deeper, I want to make it clear that I'm not here to discuss the merits of stock Android versus the Sense environment. I concede that Sense is a fine piece of software that allows HTC to differentiate itself. I don't think it's necessary, but I respect the company's desire to do something different. Still, if HTC -- or any other company, for that matter -- sticks with this single-pronged approach, it's never going to win the favor of the true enthusiast.
It could be argued that HTC serves the enthusiast market just fine with its bootloader unlock service, which gives users the ability to load custom ROMs onto their phones. This argument might partially hold water if it were true. I'm currently running a nightly build of CyanogenMod 10 (Android 4.1.2) on my One X, but to get to that point, I had to hack my phone to identify it as a device from Rogers. This is because HTC kowtowed to AT&T's demand that One X owners not be allowed to unlock the device. Sure, you could blame the evil carrier -- hell, that's always the easy route -- but where in this scenario can HTC insist that it stuck up for the enthusiasts?
If you want the very latest Android features, you need a Nexus.
Speaking of custom ROMs, they're a ton of fun to play around with, but they're hardly the quickest route to the latest software. Like Sense, TouchWiz or the LG UI, CyanogenMod adds many customizations to Android that take a while to develop and properly integrate with the latest OS versions. This is true for most custom ROMs, and as it stands, not a single fully functional Android 4.2 ROM exists for the One X. And so, we're back to where we started: if you want the very latest of what Android has to offer, you need a Nexus.
And so it's time to address the elephant in the room: the Nexus 4. I've yet to lay my hands on one, but after reading Brad's and Myriam's impressions of the device, I knew it was something I could purchase sight unseen. I currently have a Nexus 4 on order and it will be my next smartphone. I'm sure I'll love it, but still... I'd like more choice and variety, and that's the problem.
For me, moving forward, I'm only going to purchase Nexus phones -- on the Android platform, anyway -- and strong demand for the Nexus 4 suggests that a groundswell of similar sentiment is forming. As enthusiasts set the trend, I've little doubt that demand for Nexus handsets will soon break into the mainstream. Nobody wants to be held back with old software. And yet, as this demand grows, only one device exists to satisfy desire across the globe. Sure, the Nexus 4 could fill the void for a good number of people, but it's high time that others step up to the plate. Whichever company first brings greater diversity to the Nexus phone lineup will establish itself as a leader among enthusiasts, and HTC is uniquely positioned to do just that.
The Droid DNA is a faster, prettier way to use an outdated version of Android.
Within the past month, HTC released one of the most kick-ass phones ever: the Droid DNA. It offers screaming performance and an insanely beautiful 1080p display. Just thinking about it conjures gadget lust, but honestly, I wouldn't consider it for a moment as my next smartphone. It's a faster and prettier way to use an outdated version of Android. I'm done with that. Turn it into a Nexus, though, and watch how fast I reach for my wallet.
That's why I'm asking Santa for a new Nexus from HTC. And yes, I'd like to see others step up to the plate, too. Even if it doesn't fit within Google's business model to sell the phone at a low cost, this shouldn't be a major deterrent. In its purest sense, I associate the Nexus name with unlocked devices that are quick to receive the latest versions of Android. If anything, enthusiasts have a willingness to pay a premium for worthwhile products, especially when there are few alternatives. I doubt that Google would resist the attempt of hardware manufacturers to satisfy Android's most enthusiastic fans. Sure, it'd require that companies collaborate and sketch out a basic reference platform, but that's hardly a significant barrier.
If you're not yet completely convinced that the time is ripe for HTC's return to the Nexus world, I'd like to offer up one final thought for consideration. Despite the company's ability to produce truly excellent hardware, it's so far been unable to capture the attention of consumers in the way that Samsung and Apple have. Continuing on the same course isn't likely to change that. I believe it's time for HTC to do something different and unexpected to establish itself as a leader among the enthusiasts and influencers. Excellent hardware will help, but if the company wants to differentiate itself and stay ahead of the curve, it's time to cater to those who truly care about Android. It's time to build a Nexus.